Chad and Meredith Spence live in Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood, where the lights barely flickered during Superstorm Sandy.
But Meredith Spence grew up in Lacey Township, N.J., a community near the coast that was hit hard by the late-October storm. As a child, she spent many summer days at the beach resort town of Seaside Heights, strolling boardwalks and riding roller coasters that have been heavily damaged.
"When we saw this devastation, she was obviously very affected by it and very saddened," said Chad Spence. The couple felt they had to do something, so they formed a group, BMORE Giving, to provide supplies to the devastated communities. They have been reaching out to co-workers, friends, family and members of their church, Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City. They also created a Facebook page with information about how to give.
"People around here, they want to help but they don't know how," said Chad Spence.
Their efforts inspired their friend, Melinda Cave, a personal trainer at the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium, to get involved. She asked MAC owners Tim and Liz Rhode about putting out collection boxes, which were placed at the entrances of the Timonium and Hunt Valley locations of the local fitness chain.
"We just put out big cardboard boxes and wrapped them in paper," Cave said. "We put signs out. We posted to the MAC Facebook page and we did an e-blast just asking for their generosity along with a list of items that would be appropriate."
The boxes were out Thanksgiving week, and by the following Sunday they were overflowing with canned food, clothing, and other items. "We had a terrific response," said Cave. "It was really terrific to see."
So far, the Spences have made four journeys to deliver items to the New Jersey communities, two with Meredith Spence's minivan packed with as much as it could hold, and two with larger trucks that were just as stuffed. The first time, just a few days after the storm had subsided, Meredith Spence was disturbed by what she saw.
"She came back pretty devastated," said her husband. She was fortunate that family members escaped the worst of the storm. Her mother lives inland, and other relatives lost power, but that was the extent of it. Still, seeing "where you played and grew up as a kid just ripped off the earth" was deeply emotional, said Chad Spence.
Later, when he drove up with another truckload of supplies, Chad Spence found the experience "overwhelming," he said. "Just driving around some of the neighborhoods that were affected, it was unbelievable the amounts of damaged furniture, piles of it," he said. "It seemed like it was never ending. Mattresses. Sofas. Desks."
As they drove closer to the shore, he said, "you would see homes and businesses that were just a frame, just a shell. It was like a bomb went off."
While they were delivering supplies, they met Richard Skinner, a former firefighter who was coordinating shelter and supplies in the storm's aftermath.
"I happened to stop off at the United Methodist Church in Lacey Township," Skinner said. "Meredith, actually I found out later she grew up there. She and I just connected and she said, 'Do you know what's needed?' And I said, 'What isn't?'"
After she dropped off items, said Skinner, "I gave her one of my cards and she promised she would call me back. So many people say they'll call and they don't," he said. "But sure enough, she did.
"Just having her come up and hug me and say she's going to help me, I just knew she was real sincere," he said.
Skinner helped them make lists of what was needed. Bottled food and nonperishable water topped the lists, of course, but the needs went far beyond that, said Chad Spence.
"You would think, 'Oh, well, they just lost power or they're out of power for a little bit.' No. Their house is gone," he said. "They have nothing."
Chad Spence said the group is holding a toy drive for Christmas, and is seeking gift cards to home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's. Information about donating can be found on the group's Facebook page at facebook.com/BmoreGiving.
Though it's been more than a month since Sandy hit, people are still recovering.